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Students create marketplace consolidation app for student-to-student use

Andrew Hayes and CBE student David Dlima mull over a problemNeed to buy football tickets, sell a textbook, find a roommate – or just about anything else? Hundreds of apps like LetGo, OfferUp and Facebook Marketplace are potential options, but having to use multiple apps and weeding through reams of inappropriate listings and responses can be a time-waster, not to mention frustrating.

Enter Buckeye ingenuity. David Dlima, a senior in chemical engineering at The Ohio State University, and Andrew Hayes, a senior in computer science from Miami University, have created an app called KickFlip that provides a solution: students can search for the exact content they seek while limiting their interactions to other verified members of the same campus network, so students always know who they’re buying from.

The app also searches for content from other students buying or selling on Facebook who haven’t even started using the app. KickFlip collects all the best listings from Facebook Marketplace and other sites, and offers a built-in chat that allows searchers to contact sellers on any platform without ever leaving the app. If the seller is not a KickFlip user, they can either respond directly through email, or download the app and respond.  

As with many innovations, the idea was born out of necessity. Three years ago, David had needed to find someone to sublet his apartment and quickly became frustrated.

“There just weren’t any good, easy options to connect with other Ohio State students,” David said. “It became a convoluted ordeal trying to find someone who was actually another Ohio State student. But my training in chemical engineering taught me how to think through problems, and I got an idea. What if there was an app that could facilitate buying and selling just to my peers at Ohio State, or at universities in general?”

He shared his thoughts with friend Andrew, who thought the idea was viable. After some brainstorming, they got to work and the challenges quickly ensued. How could they verify the identities of other users? What would be the most reliable way to get data from Facebook? And how could they build a fast, efficient search engine?

Their efforts to work out all the various problems involved much trial and error, particularly the search engine, which was at first slow, buggy, and cumbersome and took months of iterative improvement. Learning how to build and train the machine learning algorithm was another obstacle that required a great deal of problem-solving. But David and Andrew persisted, consulting frequently by text and phone.  

Progress was slow, since Andrew was the only programmer on the project and had to build all of the tools and technology himself. Some iterations had involved complete tear-downs and rebuilds of different components of the app, further delaying progress. By June 2017, he was spending long, solitary hours at the public library, seven days a week, with no available mentors or resources other than public internet forums and tech blogs. But then, around late August, the pieces started coming together to form a working product.  

“It took a little bit of time and effort -- about 3,000 hours and a lot of aggravation, in fact,” Andrew said with a wry smile. “I feel really good about the result, though,” he added.

“We even had two Google engineers and a consultant from Epic say that KickFlip was worth patenting, so we have started that process,” David said.

KickFlip users can either search for content by keyword or just scroll through all the postings of other users. Faculty, staff and students can all sign up for the app, but to have one’s content picked up from Facebook, users have to be a current student of their university. The KickFlip team has just added the ability to select different universities to search, with content from other universities other than Ohio State coming soon.   

The most common uses for the app are to search or advertise for subleasing, roommates, or game tickets, but the app can be used to find or sell literally anything, from ride shares to searching for lost items.   

While KickFlip matures as a go-to app for students, David and Andrew are set to graduate this June. David will begin working as a software engineer at Capital One, and Andrew will be working as a Java consultant with ICC, starting out at Nationwide in Columbus.

The app can be downloaded in the App Store or by visiting getkickflip.com.